Dead Man Shows Up as Outlaw Years Later

Dead man's handThe process for declaring someone legally dead is one that is covered in state law, but in Pennsylvania, the statute's language does leave some leeway to the judge considering the petition.

If one were to evaluate the Pennsylvania statute based on the events surrounding the Evans family, one might leap to the conclusion that the law very likely does not go far enough to completely exhaust the possibility that a person is dead.

The list below gives you a thumbnail sketch of what the law requires:

  • The person must be missing for at least seven years;
  • Their absence must be deemed unexplained; and
  • A judge must rule that an attempt has been made to find the individual.

The process that the Evans’ family had to follow according to Pennsylvania law was to make a "diligent inquiry" into their family member's disappearance; however, the law does not say what exactly a "diligent inquiry" is. In this case, the judge was confident that the family had made a thorough effort to find David Brian Evans.  

The most likely reason one might wish to declare someone dead is for estate planning purposes. In this unfortunate tale, Diane Gentry, the sister of the ‘dead’ man, initiated a petition to declare her brother, David Brian Evans dead so her father's assets could be divided among his survivors after his death in 2011.  The court granted Diane Gentry's petition. However, Evans reappeared just last month at a Maryland restaurant where he shot and killed two deputies. Police subsequently shot and killed Evans.

The potential problem is that while the premature declaration of death had nothing to do with David Brian Evans’ subsequent heinous act we all too often see bad acts resulting in bad law. Hopefully it will not result in the Pennsylvania legislature rushing to judgement by making the language of the statute tougher than it needs to be.

Obviously, a missing loved one is rare, not a likely occurrence in most people lives. It would not be overreach however, if your estate plan were to provide instructions on how you would expect your Trustee or Executor to act if this were to occur. Very few laws were written to meet every individual need which is why an estate plan designed around your family dynamic is so important. Call us to schedule your complimentary estate planning consultation today.

Reference: York Daily Record (March 1, 2016) "He was declared dead, then killed two deputies. How?"


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